When I was a young lad, my parents owned a cottage that fronted on a small lake in South Eastern Ontario. While I swam in the water by day, I never ventured near the shore at night. That was when all kinds of things came forth out of the depths to languish on the shore – or so my young mind reasoned. In Jennifer Farquar’s Watermark (2018, Latitude 46 Publishing) Mina McInnis and her brother David actually sneak out of their house at night to swim in the cold waters of Lake Huron! Never would I think of such a thing. However, there is a danger that lurks in the depths of that Great Lake by day and night, something malevolent that the resident Ojibwe (Anishnaabe) call Mishi-ginebig. Could it be the reason for the drownings that have taken place over the years off the island of Mikinaak?
Mikinaak Island was teeming with ghost stories, most likely because everyone had at least a second-degree connection to everyone else’s business. Any death that took place within ten feet of the lake somehow ended up as suspicious. You could practically mark a big red x on your calendar: two weeks after someone died, a tale of a new haunting on the lake would be floating around Mikinaak. But I guess that’s island life for you.
Watermark begins with Mina McInnis and her teen son Zane moving out of Toronto back to Mikinaak Island (alias Manitoulin Island where the author grew up) to live in her childhood home. Her mother has died and the house has proven to be hard to sell. Strapped for cash, moving back is a way to live rent-free, although Zane is reluctant to go. There is another issue that arises early in the book: Mina suffers from limnophobia, a fear of lakes.
“Limnohpobia is the abnormal, irrational and persistent fear of lakes and may be related to fear of water in general. This is an uncommon fear but could be due to the fact that one usually can’t see what’s at the bottom of the lake and they fear whatever creature that might be lurking underneath. Some might have had a bad experience while swimming in a lake such as a near-drowning experience or might have known someone who drowned in a lake. Some might have been thrown into a lake as a prank thus this fear developed.” (source: phobiasource.com)
How she came by this fear is only one of many secrets that unfold over the 300+ pages of Watermark. There are two parts to the book, and Part One deals primarily with the backstory of the McInnis family living on Mikinaak Island. There is also the Doyles, a wealthy family who summers on their own private island called Elsinore. While giving any more details will venture into spoiler territory, suffice it to say that by the end of Part One, the suspense of so many secrets being withheld and the subtle implications of something sinister in the waters of Lake Huron are worthy of the best Stephen King novel. There were a few moments when chills ran through me. While the author didn’t intend to write a horror novel per se, Watermark is about horrific things: drownings, Ojibwe folklore of evil little forest people, the Bearwalker incident (which nobody is keen to discuss) and of course, Mishi-ginebig, a large serpentine creature that drags humans under the water.
Watermark is a startling debut novel and I devoured it within 24hrs. This is not to say that there were not certain things I didn’t like about it; the angst-ridden teenager Zane I could have done without, but he is somewhat germane to the story, so I learned to tolerate his profanity-laden outbursts directed toward his long-suffering mother. What I appreciated about Watermark was the way Ms. Farquhar juxtaposed the remote island setting, the wealthy Doyles, small-town gossip and Indigenous stories in a powerful, encircling way to make a true novel of cause and effect, of actions and their consequences. I’m adding Watermark to the Summer Reading List. Read it by a lake, if you dare! I’m adding Watermark to the 2018 long list in both the Best Fiction and Best First Book categories.
September 9th, 2018: Watermark has been awarded as a “Best First Book – Fiction” in “The Very Best!” Book Award category for First Book!
Watermark by Jennifer Farquhar
Latitude 46 Publishing
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